SEBRING — Zephen Xaver's background has become a focal point for law enforcement, journalists and a public struggling to comprehend his actions on Jan. 23, when he shot and killed five people at the Sebring SunTrust Bank, 1901 U.S. 27 South.
But Xaver's past doesn't appear to have been a high priority not too long ago, even by those who had a vested interest in wanting to know more about the individual.
When he applied for a job at Avon Park Correctional Institution in September 2018, he listed three previous employers. The Florida Department of Corrections said it was unable to reach any of them.
"The Department attempts to attain job reference checks on all candidates, but it is very common for former employers to be unresponsive or only respond with basic information, such as dates of employment," said Patrick Manderfield, press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections. "The Department conducted all required background checks in accordance with Florida Statutes."
There are six "Mandatory" checks required by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for new hires: Previous Employment; FCIC (Florida Crime Information Center) Record; NCIC (National Crime Information Center) Record; Local Law Enforcement; Military History; and Controlled Substances. Xaver was marked "Satisfactory" in all six, according to Xaver's application.
There are three background checks deemed "Recommended" by FDLE: Job Related Psychological Examination; Polygraph Examination; and Neighborhood Check. Again, according to Xaver's application, none of the three were done.
While Xaver listed "Mike" as his supervisor for a previous job as an oil-change technician, the FDC said it tried to reach a person named "Sandi" three times by fax to verify his employment to no avail.
With one phone call, the Highlands News- Sun was able to reach the "Mike" listed as a business reference on the APCI application. Mike Chew, the manager at Duke of Oil, said he was never contacted by anyone at APCI regarding Xaver and his previous employment with Duke of Oil. He also said there were no messages for him to contact them.
Chew said he worked with Xaver for about four to five months and was surprised when he heard what his former co-worker was accused of.
“He had a pretty good work ethic,” Chew said. “He came in when he was supposed to and didn’t call out sick.”
When asked how Xaver was with the customers, Chew hesitated briefly before saying he “wasn’t too bad.”
Chew said Xaver got along with he and the other co-workers.
“We didn’t go out or anything. We all just worked in a group. I didn’t see anything in his personality that would have led me to believe he would do something like that," Chew said. "If I had, I would have alerted someone.”
There was no contact person listed on the other two failed attempts to reach his previous employers, although Xaver did indicate supervisors on his application.
Xaver's former supervisors aren't the only things that failed to be uncovered during the hiring process at APCI. A background check also failed to find out about his short stint in the service, as Xaver indicated on his application he had never served in the military.
"Military discharge papers are requested if an applicant indicates prior military service," Manderfield said.
Documents provided by the Bremen (Indiana) Police Department mention Xaver being transported to (Michiana) Behavioral Health in Plymouth, Indiana on at least one occasion, but Manderfield said that is something that may not show up on the background check.
"Psychiatric stays are not subject to background investigation unless court-ordered and entered by law enforcement into Criminal Justice Information Systems," he said.
But Manderfield did state the Department of Corrections would have been alerted to crimes committed while Xaver was a minor.
"Biometric fingerprinting background checks are also completed during the hiring process," he said. "Juvenile crimes would be included in the background check."
When an employee of APCI receives training and certification, they are required to work for a certain amount of time, or they must repay the costs incurred during training, but since Xaver was never certified, he will not be required to repay any of the costs.
“The obligation to repay does not begin until a candidate is certified as a correctional officer by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” Manderfield said. “Mr. Xaver is not required to repay the cost of training as he resigned prior to obtaining his certification.”